The NHL's offseason is always filled with intrigue as teams put together their rosters for the upcoming season through free agency and trades, but this year there will be an added twist with the expansion draft as the Vegas Golden Knights become the league's 31st team for the 2017-18 campaign.
There will be plenty to watch as the 30 other teams determine their lists of which players to protect and expose, and which players the Golden Knights select as they begin to assemble their first roster. And the expansion draft is expected to be a catalyst for player movement throughout the league.
Teams could consider trading players they might lose to Vegas, hoping to get something in return instead of seeing a player leave for nothing. That opens the door for teams, including the Stars, to cut deals to fill holes on their roster. Some teams could be looking to shed money from their salary cap.
Golden Knights GM George McPhee knows that over the long run his team will be built through the draft, so he'll be looking to acquire picks, perhaps from other teams hoping not to lose an exposed player in the draft or even in hopes a particular player gets selected.
Once teams submit their protected lists, there could be more dealing as teams see which players other teams are willing to expose. For example, Vegas could have a deal in place to select a player from one team and then move him to another team for a future asset. Vegas can't put all 30 players it takes on a 23-man roster, so it will move some of the players it selects in the expansion drafts for picks and prospects.
Bottom line: the time is ripe for a plethora of player movement throughout the league. And the door is open for creativity. Time will tell how much movement. Some teams could decide a deal isn't there and just concede to losing a player to expansion. But there is going to be some movement. And the expansion draft will be a key catalyst.
How the expansion draft works
Vegas will select 30 players, one from each of the other NHL teams, as it puts together its initial roster. NHL teams will be allowed to protect a certain number of players, either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender; or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender.
All players with effective no movement clauses in their contracts at the time of the expansion draft - and who decline to waive them - must be protected. All first- and second-year professionals, along with unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection.
Teams must expose:
*One defenseman who is under contract for 2017-18 and has played in 40 or more games this past season or 70 or more games the past two seasons.
*Two forwards who are under contract in 2017-18 and have played in 40 or more games this past season or in 70 or more games the past two seasons.
*One goaltender who is under contract for 2017-18 or who will be a restricted free agent prior to 2017-18. If a team exposes a restricted free agent goaltender, he must have received a qualifying offer before the team submits its protection list.
*Pick a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders. The other four picks can be any position.
*Select at least 20 players under contract for the 2017-18 season.
*Select players who account for between 60 to 100 percent of the prior season's upper limit of the salary cap.
Here's a look at some of the key dates involving the expansion draft.
- June 17: Teams must submit their protected lists by 4:00 p.m. CT
- June 18: The NHL will release the protected lists for all 30 teams at 9:00 a.m. CT
- June 20: Vegas must submit its expansion draft selections by 4:00 p.m. CT
- June 21: The selections made by Vegas will be announced at the NHL Awards Show
Vegas Free Agent Negotiations
After the lists are submitted, Vegas will have a 72-hour window from June 18-21 to negotiate with any free agent - restricted or unrestricted - who is unprotected. If a free agent does sign with Vegas during that window, then he would be the Golden Knights' selection from that player's team.
Well, they are going to lose a player. Which one? Who knows. We can reasonably guess which ones they aren't going to lose. Let's start with which ones who are not even in play. Again, among the players exempt from the expansion draft are players who are in their first or second year of pro hockey such as forwards Devin Shore and Mattias Janmark. Defenseman Julius Honka is in his third year of pro hockey, but he also is exempt due to some of the complicated rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
As for their protected list, the Stars likely go the route of seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender. We won't know what the Stars are going to do until their list is released, so, for now, all we can do is speculate.
Forwards: Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza both have no-movement clauses, so they will be protected. The Stars will protect Tyler Seguin as well. Radek Faksa seems to be a key piece going forward, making him an apparent lock for the protected list. So, there are four of the seven spots right there.
Stars GM Jim Nill has indicated he probably will protect Valeri Nichushkin, who played in Russia this season but whose NHL rights are still held by Dallas. If the Stars want to retain Nichushkin's NHL rights, and indications are they do, Nichushkin will need to be protected, pushing the projected forward protected list to five.
That might leave you wondering about guys like Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, and Cody Eakin.
Ritchie probably was on the bubble as far as protection heading into this past season, but likely earned himself protection based on his performance in 2016-17 when he scored 16 goals despite playing just under 13 minutes per game.
So, is it down to Eakin or Roussel? Maybe. But that's just a guess.
Roussel has been a good and effective player for the Stars, bringing energy and grit to the lineup. And he was on pace for a career year statistically in 2016-17 before his season was cut short by a broken thumb. Prospect Remi Elie does some of the same things as Roussel, but not everything.
Eakin likely would have been a lock to make the protected list back in September, but he struggled coming off a knee injury suffered in training camp and had a rough season. He's had some good seasons with the Stars, but the team is deep at center.
So what are the options? There's always the option of making a trade before June 17 to get something in return, possibly to fill a hole on the roster, instead of losing one of those forwards for nothing in the expansion draft. Or Nill could just take the risk of losing a player. Teams lose players every year after all.
Other forwards who are eligible to be exposed in the expansion draft are Adam Cracknell and Curtis McKenzie, unrestricted free agents Ales Hemsky, Patrick Sharp and Jiri Hudler and AHL players such as Gemel Smith, Justin Dowling and others with more than two years of pro experience.
Among the forwards exempt from the expansion draft - along with Shore and Janmark - are prospects such as Elie, Jason Dickinson, Denis Gurianov and others who are first- and second-year pros.
Defensemen: No one is required to be protected, but John Klingberg and Esa Lindell would appear to be the locks. That would leave one more defenseman to be protected under the 7-3-1 scenario. Again, Julius Honka is exempt, so no need to worry about him.
Among the other defensemen eligible to be exposed are Dan Hamhuis, Stephen Johns, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth and Greg Pateryn.
Johns appeared to be a lock to be protected at the start of 2016-17, but he had his ups and downs over the season. Oleksiak had his ups and downs as well, but his stock seemed to rise over the course of the season. So, that third spot on the protected list could be between Johns and Oleksiak. But that's just speculation.
Hamhuis would appear to be a low-risk exposure because of his age (34) and contract (one year remaining). But who knows what Vegas is thinking. Hamhuis would provide veteran leadership and could be a moveable asset down the road for the Golden Knights.
Several AHL defensemen including Ludwig Bystrom, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Nick Ebert, and others are eligible to be selected.
Goaltenders: The Stars addressed one of their biggest needs of the offseason by acquiring goaltender Ben Bishop. The Stars shipped a fourth-round pick in 2017 to Los Angeles for Bishop, a pending unrestricted free agent, and then signed him to a six-year, $29.5 million contract.
Bishop has a no-movement clause, so he'll need to be protected, and even if he didn't the Stars would protect him since he is the No. 1 goaltender heading into next season. At least one of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, who have shared the Dallas net the past two seasons, will need to be moved via trade, expansion or buyout. Both will be exposed in the expansion draft along with AHL goalies Max Lagace and Justin Peters, who is a pending unrestricted free agent.
Dallas goaltending prospects Landon Bow and Philippe Desrosiers both are exempt from the expansion draft.
Vegas GM George McPhee already has been open for business, talking to teams about players they'd like to see the Golden Knights leave alone or perhaps take in the expansion draft.
"If they want to give us draft picks to encourage us to take a certain player or leave another player alone, we're open-minded, and we're going to listen to everyone," McPhee told the Associated Press. "You usually build your team, historically, through the entry draft, so we'd certainly be interested in acquiring picks."
As for the players McPhee selects from the other NHL teams, he could be looking at a variety of factors. He'll likely want some pieces that will be part of the team's core for years to come, and he could look for some short-term solutions that might be valuable down the road, including perhaps at the trade deadline. Chances are McPhee won't pick all young players; the team will need some veteran leadership.
And again, he can't keep all 30 players he takes in the expansion draft. The NHL roster is 23 players, and there is the issue of getting people through waivers. So, some of the players he selects in the expansion draft are likely to get moved for future assets as he tries to build for the future.
How do the Stars fit into this? Only McPhee knows. It's easy to look at which players the Stars might expose and say Vegas should pick this guy. But McPhee has options - plenty of them - from 29 other teams, and he has a master plan of how he plans to use each of those picks, whether they will fit into his roster or if he plans to move them for future assets. Plus, he has trades and free agency at his disposal as he shapes that 23-man roster for 2017-18.
So time will tell and, as McPhee told TSN recently, "It will be fun."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.